There’s a chance for magic when musicians cross paths. For some it’s groundbreaking (Aerosmith ft. Run DMC – “Walk This Way”), and other times it’s the thought that counts (Nelly ft. Tim McGraw – “Over and Over”). But when there’s that spark that elevates a collaborated piece to a whole new level, well, that’s the stuff that melts the hearts of music fans. No longer are artists forced to snail mail DATs to each other via the Postal Service or find the time to meet in the studio. Online file sharing has facilitated endless possibilities for artists to exchange work around the world with the click of a button touch of a screen.
With several of the most acclaimed albums of Generation Y, Oxfordshire quintet Radiohead have intrigued, inspired, and influenced fans and musicians for over two decades. Everything Radiohead does is viewed under a microscope with the brightest spotlight. With such unprecedented adoration and credentials, the band and its members are at liberty to pick and choose who they collaborate with whether it be scoring a soundtrack for a high profile Hollywood director or dueting with an Icelandic songbird, hoping one doesn’t show up to the studio with the same swan outfit.
Because of this “power”, for lack of a better word, we carved out an easy-to-read collective history of the team-ups between Radiohead alumni and their music peers. Some of them have yielded commercial success while others are more obscure, simmering in our collections for a rainy day. While we patiently wait for a world tour, check out the many collaborations the British aural power has accomplished, and from there, let your imagination run wild with any ideal pairings for the future. But, let us know, of course.
Feature artwork by Cap Blackard.
Radiohead and Nigel Godrich – 1994
As Radiohead’s informal sixth member, Nigel Godrich is George Martin with computer access. Having produced every one of the band’s records since The Bends, the dude’s knack for hazy, haunting, impossibly dense atmospherics and his cutthroat recording methods are more or less responsible for extracting the genius out of the Oxford Five. From listening to any non-Radiohead record Godrich has produced, it becomes frighteningly clear just how much he contributes to the band’s sound. Listen to Beck’s Sea Change, for instance, and you realize OK Computer was conceived by Radiohead, but raised and brought up to live in Godrich’s world. Seriously, listen to “Lost Cause” while you read the rest of this list. Or just wipe the tears from your eyes as you witness the perfection of “Let Down”. Either way, you’ll hear Godrich’s perfection first-hand. -Drew Litowitz
Radiohead and Stanley Donwood – 1995
But as much as Godrich nurtures the band’s sonic aesthetic, credit for the group’s visual style mostly goes to one man: Dan Rickwood AKA Stanley Donwood. From the Caspar David Friedrich inspired post-apocalyptic landscapes of Kid A to the band’s unofficial logo, the bear, Donwood has defined much of Radiohead’s unique and specifically peculiar visual brand, lots of times with Thom Yorke putting his hands in, too (billed as Dr. Tchock for his visual contributions). Donwood translates the band’s paranoid, possessed themes so beautifully, it’s as if his artwork spilled out from a sound system and onto a canvas (maybe it has something to do with his studio’s location: in a room parallel to the band’s practice/writing space, with speakers sending all those sounds his way). But moreover, the cryptic writings that fill CD inserts, the removed, minimal, eerie phraseology so closely associated with Thom Yorke and co. are in part Donwood’s, too. Good thing Yorke met Donwood at the University of Exeter, or our King of Limbs newspaper album would probably be lacking in the perforated acid tabs department. -Drew Litowitz
Radiohead and Michael Stipe – 1998
Anyone who has seen the very depressing documentary Meeting People is Easy has a bit of an idea of how dark a time the OK Computer tour was for Radiohead, and its famously offish front man. Michael Stipe, the face of R.E.M., could be credited with helping Thom Yorke through that era, suggesting the mantra “I’m not here, this isn’t happening” to weather the stresses and pressures of the road. The line ended up forming the chorus to Kid A‘s “How to Disappear Completely”, one of the band’s most moving works to date. A big influence on their early guitar-driven sound, Stipe has remained tight with the guys in Radiohead over the years, even joining them on-stage a couple of times over the years. Here, we find him and the band in the midst of the aforementioned OK Computer tour, at 1998’s Tibetan Freedom Concert in D.C., sharing the stage for a spirited take on album highpoint “Lucky”. Dig Thom Yorke’s geeked-out boyish grin as Stipe rocks out on the second verse, further proof that he really is human after all. -MÃ¶hammad Choudhery
Thom Yorke and U.N.K.L.E. – 1998
If you didn’t know any better, you might think that “Rabbit in Your Headlights” was simply a Radiohead song. It opens slowly, somberly, with Yorke’s voice only accompanied by piano. But, as the song rolls on, the samples keep coming, and it becomes more like an excellent U.N.K.L.E. track. “Rabbit in Your Headlights” was a touchstone tune on their 1998 debut, Psyence Fiction. The song itself is a fantastic slow build that is guided by Yorke’s soaring and haunting vocals, and is perhaps U.N.K.L.E.’s greatest song. The track reached legendary status, though, with the John Glazer-directed music video that is widely regarded as one of the greatest of all time. This might be the most effective use of a Thom Yorke guest spot out there. The song just wouldn’t be the same without him. -Carson O’Shoney
Venus in Furs – 1998
For Todd Haynes’ David Bowie-inspired glam rock movie, 1998’s Velvet Goldmine, Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood teamed up with Suede’s Bernard Butler, Paul Kimble of Grant Lee Buffalo, and Andy Mackay of Roxy Music to form Venus in Furs. In total, this Radiohead-infused incarnation of that group recorded three songs for the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack, all of which were Roxy Music covers: “2HB”, “Ladytron”, and “Bitter-Sweet”. A band also appears in the film under the name Venus in Furs performing Brian Eno’s “Baby’s On Fire” and “Tumbling Down” by Cockney Rebel, but the on-screen version doesn’t include Yorke or Greenwood. -Austin Trunick
Thom Yorke and Sparklehorse – 1998
Radiohead has long had a connection to Sparklehorse. Mark Linkous and his band opened for Radiohead in Europe during their OK Computer tour in 1996. Shortly after that string of dates, Linkous recorded a haunting cover of Pink Floyd’s classic “Wish You Were Here”, while Thom Yorke literally phoned in some subdued, but beautiful backing vocals. Obviously more Sparklehorse than Radiohead, the result nonetheless ended up being one of the most gorgeous Pink Floyd covers out there. First appearing on the 1998 EMI compilation album Come Again, the cover gained popularity after being chosen to play over the closing credits of the 2005 Heath Ledger skating flick, Lords of Dogtown. Today, the cover is even more poignant than ever, after Linkous’s tragic suicide in 2010. -Carson O’Shoney
Jonny Greenwood/Nigel Godrich and Pavement – 1999
Pavement’s final album, 1999’s Terror Twilight, was riddled with cliché tales of a band falling apart, and diverting from their normal recording path wasn’t exactly helping the situation. For the first time in their career, Pavement brought in an outside hire to produce the album, long-time Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. While the end result was somewhat of a mixed bag, it undeniably had that Radiohead feel to it (just compare the opening lines of “Spit on a Stranger” with “My Iron Lung” or “No Suprises”). And if that’s not enough of a Radiohead connection for you, Jonny Greenwood, a long-time Pavement fan, added harmonica to “Platform Blues”. With OK Computer and Beck’s Mutations under Godrich’s belt, Terror Twilight would prove to to be a lovely mess, and probably wouldn’t exist in its current state without the seven degrees of Radiohead. –Jeremy D. Larson
Thom Yorke and PJ Harvey – 2000
In 2000, two particular artists had watershed years in which they released critically-acclaimed albums that were drastically different from their previous sound. Radiohead dropped the alternative rock vibe that was spread throughout the ’90s, opting for the electronic and eccentric stylings of Kid A. Less than a month later, PJ Harvey released Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. Rather than the unsettling, dark sounds that surrounded 1995’s To Bring You Me Love and 1998’s Is This Desire?, this album was full of beautiful melodies and lush layers.
Right in the middle of the record is Thom Yorke’s appearance on “This Mess We’re In”. Unlike the distorted, masked vocals he favored on Kid A, his voice is crystal clear here as it alternates between emotional pleas and passionate falsettos. It counters Harvey’s soft-sung lines in the chorus and doesn’t feel like an intrusion, which famous guest spots can occasionally become. Instead, the song and appearance slid right into the flow of the tracklisting. With chemistry like this, we’d love to see another collaboration, even if it’s just the length of a song. -Joe Marvilli